Acts 2: It Had All Been For This

Baptism and the Holy Spirit.1 (610x351)It had all been for this. Jesus ascended into heaven, taking His seat at the right hand of the Father, that position of authority and power, all to pour out the Holy Spirit from the Father. That Spirit, which Jesus had sent to His Church, was the same Spirit that had come to the Virgin Mary. That Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb, all so He might live, suffer, die, and rise for our salvation. And Jesus, 50 days after He rose from the dead, kept His promise to send God the Holy Spirit.

And so God the Holy Spirit whooshed into our human experience like never before. He descended on His fledgling, New-Covenant Church with a startling speed that no one in Jerusalem could miss. The Spirit entered the world with gusto to be with all God’s people, unlike the quiet way the infant Jesus had entered our world at Bethlehem.

The Spirit’s entrance was windy, which makes perfect sense, for the word for “Spirit” is also the word for “breath” or “wind.” And so the Holy Spirit is the breath of God. But this Wind, this Spirit, wasn’t a gentle breeze. He came as a “mighty, rushing wind.” Think of a tornado, but a good one, where the wind suddenly descends from the sky with power. It was that wind, that Spirit!

And what was in the wind? It was the burning fire of God! Flames separated and rested, not just on the Apostles, but on everyone in that still emerging Church.

In God’s Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit dwelled in a building, the Temple. There, God, in the form a cloud, was present with His people above the Ark of Covenant. And the few times the Holy Spirit did dwell in His Old-Covenant people, He was only in those who were in positions of leadership, to do the tasks that God had given them to do.

But in the New Covenant, God not only busts open His Church to the Gentiles, but He gives everyone in His Church His Holy Spirit. That’s why the Apostle Paul could write, “Don’t you know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit has brought all Christians into God’s Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).

It’s no wonder that such a change for God’s people and His Church is such a huge event! God was announcing to anyone and everyone—at the epicenter of His Old-Covenant people—that life with God has now changed.

So God blasts into Jerusalem with the flurry of His Spirit, where Jews had gathered for the Old-Covenant Pentecost. They celebrated that Pentecost 50 days after Passover. They offered sacrifices to God, even the first-fruits of the wheat harvest (Leviticus 23:17). And God lavishly granted forgiveness through those sacrifices—when they pointed to what the promised Messiah would fulfill and do.

But on this day, God would usher in the New-Covenant Pentecost, making everything new. Instead of the people offering the first-fruits of the wheat harvest, God would send to His people the first-fruits of His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23, Ephesians 1:13-14). In the Old Covenant, God’s people offered their first-fruits of grain, showing that the whole field and crop belonged to God. That offering was also an appeal for God’s continued blessing through that sacrifice.

But the New-Covenant Pentecost is all God’s doing, from beginning to end. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Spirit to live within each believer: This was God’s pledge that the whole person, in both body and soul, belonged to Him. But more than that, Pentecost became God’s declaration that He will continue to care for those in whom the first-fruits of the Spirit are present until the “full harvest.” That’s the resurrection of the body.

With all that going on, it’s no wonder that God had used signs and wonders to usher in the New Pentecost. God wanted people to know, including those who were still mistakenly living in the Old Covenant, that the New Covenant had arrived. They heard and felt the rush of the wind. And so they came rushing to see what was going on. But they became confused, for they had never experienced anything like that before.

And what did they find? They found that God had reversed what had happened deep in their history, at Babel! Instead of language dividing one person from the other, that day, they heard all the Christians speaking about the great works of God. And in that confusion, they asked this most Lutheran of questions: “What does this mean?”

But no matter how many fireworks God may put on display, someone will still belittle it. That’s the nature of unbelief. “They’re just drunk,” some began to say. But on that day when the New-Covenant Church came out of the closet, in a good way, we get a proper picture of the Church. All Christians spoke of Jesus that day, but only one gave a sermon, the Apostle Peter, one of the eleven pastors in that emerging Church.

Peter steps forward and says, “No one’s drunk; it’s only 9:00 in the morning!” And then Peter preaches Jesus into their ears:

Although God had already planned and decided that Jesus would be handed over to you, YOU killed him by nailing him to a cross, using the hands of Gentiles. God raised him from death.… And since [Jesus] has been raised to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit. HE has poured out what you now see and hear. [Acts 2:23-24, 33]

But just explaining the events of that day wasn’t enough. Peter delivered the goods. He preached to them, just as Jesus had told him: He preached “repentance into the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:27). Peter gave them both the Law and the Gospel:

“Let all the people of Israel know this: God has made this Jesus, whom YOU crucified, both Lord and Messiah!” When they heard this, they were cut to the heart. They cried out to Peter and the other Apostles, “Brothers, what must we do?” [Acts 2:36-37]

They cried out as only they knew how: “What must WE do?” It’s then that Peter tells the people what GOD will do for them. Peter brings them the Gospel. “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

The repentance and baptism that God demands, He also provides. Yes, Peter’s words to repent and be baptized were commands. But they weren’t deeds that someone could do to save himself. But how can your pastor say that? Peter called what God does through Holy-Spirit wrought repentance and baptism as “the gift of the Holy Spirit.” For a gift to be a gift, it must be given to you, and God is the Giver of that gift.

That’s why our Small Catechism says:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

And so, the living water of baptism graced 3,000 that day. Through that baptismal water, Jesus sent them the very Spirit that had earlier descended on Him at His baptism.

God had waited since the fall into sin to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. This Spirit is God, who proceeds from the Father and rests eternally on the Son. Jesus called Him, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). Jesus then promised to His Apostles, “[The Holy Spirit] will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you” (John 14:26). And so those Apostles wrote what would become the New Testament.

“Remind you of everything that [Jesus has] told you”: The Holy Spirit points people to Jesus, not Himself. He points us to the same Jesus who sends the gift of the Holy Spirit. But unlike the Spirit directly descending on His people, He now comes to someone in the waters of holy baptism. It’s as Peter preached, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

And so, Pentecost is still a day for dancing. After all, our risen and ascended Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to us, we who could never believe on our own! He has sent us the Spirit, who not only gives us faith, but who also keeps us in the faith. The Spirit even strengthens us in that faith until our last hour comes.

And then, that Spirit still doesn’t leave us. He will bring us through death with Christ into the life that never ends. He will raise our bodies and transfigure them when our Lord returns on the Last Day. That’s the resurrection of the dead, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, that is, the life of the world to come.

The day of your baptism is your personal Pentecost. But there’s more. Jesus doesn’t just pour out His Spirit once, and that’s it. If you were to read through the book of Acts, you’d find that same Spirit later descending on those same Apostles (Acts 4:31).

In baptism, you received the Holy Spirit—all of Him. And yet, He always has more for you to receive. Jesus continues to send the Spirit to live within you, but not just through your baptism. He comes to you when you hear the preached Word of Jesus, where He is at work to strengthen your faith. But not just that, He’s also in the Supper, as well. That’s where, by the Spirit’s power, Jesus feeds you with His body and blood, giving to you again the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

The Spirit is the gift that Christ keeps on giving. That’s why the Church celebrates this day, praying to the third Person of the Holy Trinity: “Come, Holy Spirit!” Amen.